Rafiu Bakare, the head track and field coach at Archbishop Carroll High School, was preparing for the High School Nationals the weekend before his team was scheduled to drive to Manhattan to compete in the national championships at the New Balance Armory.

It was March 11, 2020.

“I’m scanning my Twitter feed and see an update about the NCAA Indoor National Championships” Coach “Rah” (as he is affectionately called) said. “I’m thinking, ‘Wow they just canceled the national championships.’”

The New Balance High School Indoor Nationals would soon follow suit. Followed by a string of other events due to the coronavirus outbreak.

High school sports nationwide were shut down a week later. Facilities were closed. Gyms and weight rooms were locked. Campuses emptied and classrooms turned virtual. This literally changed his life for this celebrated coach who also is one of the school’s most popular history teachers.

As the weeks turned to months, and the 2020-2021 school year approached, the uncertainty of the coming sports seasons grew.

“We determined early on that track and field would have their seasons” Coach Rah said. “We saw that states were allowing ‘club sports’ to continue, so using the [National Federation of High School Sports] suggestions and the CDC protocols as our framework, we submitted a plan of engagement to our administration at Archbishop Carroll, and they supported our efforts to keep our student-athletes engaged. Our families, to an understandably small extent, bought in.”

Nyckoles Harbor was the meet MVP. (Courtesy of Archbishop Carroll High School)

Thank goodness for my dedicated coaching staff – including Victor Blackett (hurdle specialist), Gertrude Peace (middle- and long-distance specialist), and the committed parents who made it possible.

And buy in they did. Though the team would be estranged from their home track at Archbishop Carroll Due to pandemic restrictions for the majority of the year, Coach Rah and his staff established the safety framework dividing the participating student-athletes into two different locations to train, and the efforts bore fruit. One location included an indoor state-of-the-art facility in Virginia, called The St. James.

Fifteen months later on June 10, with only 9 boys available, the Archbishop Carroll Lions put on superlative performances, winning 8 of 17 contested events, and appearing on the podium in 13 of those 17 events. Adding to these exemplary performances was the lone girl who participated for Archbishop Carroll, Kayla Collins who captured the Girls 300-meter hurdles state title.

The team was led in the effort by sophomore Nyckoles Harbor, the meet MVP, who contributed 20 individual points. Harbor set a state record in both the 100 meters and 200 meters in the preliminaries only to break his own record in the finals. The Archbishop Carroll hurdle squad laid a clean sweep in the 110 hurdles and would likely have done so in the boys 300-meter hurdles, if not for two-time (2020 and 2021) D.C. State 110 hurdle champion, DJ Warmington being medically ruled out of the competition.

“Honestly, the future is bright. We are young. We’re growing,” Coach Rah said of the team moving forward. “We didn’t graduate anyone from our boys’ team, all of whom rank in the top 10 percent of performers. Also, our girls are getting healthy, and we are preparing for a full school re-engagement in August of 2021. The sky is the limit.”

Archbishop Carroll High School 2021 D.C. State Champions

Event — Student-Athlete (Academic Class)
100 Meters — Nyckoles Harbor (Sophomore)
200 Meters — Nyckoles Harbor (Sophomore)
110 Hurdles — DJ Warmington (Junior)
Boys High Jump — Drew Dillard (Freshman)
Boys 300 Meter Hurdles — Bryce Dudley (Junior)
Boys 400 Meters — Jalen Williams (Junior)
Girls 300 Hurdles — Kayla Collins (Junior)
Boys 4×100 Relay — Reece Temoney, Bryce Dudley, Joshua Lesesne (Juniors), Nyckoles Harbor (Sophomore)

Ellerbe is director of the Archbishop Carroll Athletic Department.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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